Speech – New Zealand Labour Party
On that occasion, I was presented by Vietnam veterans with this badge, acknowledging their relationship with the US Army’s 173 Airborne division which my nephew Captain Matt Ferrera was serving with when he was killed in action in Afghanistan four years …Phil
Tuesday 15 November, 2011
Wellington Convention Centre, 4pm SPEECH
Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association – National Council
President of the NZRSA Lieutenant-General, Don McIver
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for the invitation to speak to the 95th National Council today.
The last time I had this privilege was as Minister of Defence in 2008.
On that occasion, I was presented by Vietnam veterans with this badge, acknowledging their relationship with the US Army’s 173 Airborne division which my nephew Captain Matt Ferrera was serving with when he was killed in action in Afghanistan four years ago last Thursday.
That presentation was a very moving occasion for me and I wear this badge with pride every ANZAC day. Thank you to the Vietnam vets for your thoughtfulness.
Matt’s two younger brothers have since served in the region where he was killed, Nuristān, and his youngest brother Andy is serving there today as a platoon leader.
As my grandmother did, my sister has had to cope with four sons serving their country at war.
I would like to acknowledge all of you here who have served your country.
The ranks of our Second World War vets are thinning. They are our taonga and I am pleased that in future they will be treated more generously for the 70th anniversary commemorations than was the case with Crete earlier this year.
Time is also having its impact on our Korea, Malaya and Vietnam veterans.
It was so important to commemorate 2006 as the Year of the Veterans and to support Tribute ’08 as we as a country belatedly recognised those who served bravely in the conflict in Vietnam. I was pleased together with my colleague Rick Barker MP to have worked with John Campbell, Chris Mullane and others to help resolve the concerns of Vietnam veterans through the agreed Memorandum of Understanding.
As part of that, we had the Law Commission undertake a thorough review of the War Pensions Act, 1954, which is outdated.
The Commission reported last year and it is disappointing that there has been no substantive response from the Government.
The report identified deficiencies in the Act, including the fact that in some circumstances the support for veterans is less than that for other citizens.
It put forward solid recommendations for improvements including separate legislation that responds to and takes care of our older veteran community and legislation for the next generation of veterans.
The future focus is to put greater emphasis on rehabilitation.
Labour will respond to and legislate for provisions required by the Law Commission report.
Recently we were concerned to learn from welfare officers about a marked decline in the acceptance rate of War Disablement Pensions. When we checked this out under the Official Information Act, we found that only 31% of 10,800 claims lodged last year were accepted. We are now asking questions as to why this is the case.
When I last reported to the National Council as Minister of Defence, I commented on progress that had been made in rebuilding the New Zealand Defence Force after it had become badly run down in the 1990s.
With a strongly performing economy during our term in office, we invested in the Long Term Development Plan which provided the largest single commitment of capital funding for Defence since World War II.
There were new light armoured and light operational vehicles for the army, javelin anti-tank missiles and air defence systems, radio and night vision equipment.
Under Project Protector seven new ships were added to the navy, which after some initial teething problems are performing well.
The Airforce added and adapted for dual use two Boeing 757s and began major upgrades for our Orions and Hercules. I placed the orders for the new Agusta-Westland training and light utility helicopters which have now arrived and the medium utility NH90 helicopters which are due shortly.
These bring our rotary wing fleet out of the Korea and Vietnam War era and into the 21st century.
We strengthened the Defence Force with 1100 additional personnel, and lifted their wages so we could recruit and retain the quality people we need.
We are now in a different economic climate, and it is fortunate Labour updated and upgraded the Defence Forces capabilities when we did. If we had not, we would now be looking at a Defence Force not capable of what we need from it.
In the current financial situation, there is less room for new spending, but we are monitoring what is happening in Defence closely to ensure the cuts being made do not undermine our ability to protect our people and meet our critical responsibilities.
Our Defence Force continues to be involved in deployments in East Timor, the Solomons and Afghanistan.
In each one of those areas, we need to have in place exit strategies. East Timor and the Solomons are currently benign environments and our people do useful work there. But we cannot remain in those places indefinitely.
In Bamiyan, we enjoy a good relationship with the local administration headed by Governor Sarabi who is a good partner. But over the next three years we need to hand over our security and peace-keeping responsibilities to the locals.
The SAS in Afghanistan have served with courage, honour and total professionalism but it is time for them to come home.
We have now had troops in Afghanistan for longer than our troops served in the First and Second World Wars combined
My concern is that the situation in Afghanistan is intractable and getting worse, not better.
The central government regime is infiltrated by warlords and drug traffickers. The Vice President was reported taking US$20 million out of the country in a suitcase. The Afghan National Police is deeply corrupt and too many International Security Assistance Force personnel, most recently our Australian comrades have been killed and injured by rogue elements in the Afghan National Army.
The justice system convicts women who have been raped for adultery.
The Government has failed to win the hearts and minds of its own people.
If they cannot do that, they cannot win and we cannot do it for them.
Over the last year, we have tragically mourned the death in combat of Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, Corporal Doug Grant and Lance Corporal Leon Smith, all brave men, and our hearts go out to their families.
Private Kirifi Mila was killed in an accident and four other Kiwis serving with the US, Britain and Australia have been killed in action.
Our country understands and is ready to accept sacrifice when the cause is just and we can make a difference.
Over time it is less obvious that this is the case in Afghanistan, which has degenerated into something more akin to a civil war than a necessary action against international terrorism.
That is why we will bring the SAS home from Afghanistan and not redeploy them there.
I want to again thank the service your members have given to our country.
We are proud of the courage, the integrity and the professionalism of our Defence Force personnel currently serving our country abroad.
For our veterans, we are proud and grateful for your contribution.
I am of the baby boom generation. Our dads didn’t talk much about the war when I was a child, though my dad and his remaining mates talk much more about it today. For his 90th birthday, we shouted him a flight in a Harvard Training, the first time he has flown in one since 1946. He insisted on the pilot doing aerobatics.
The remarkable thing about our World War II Vets is that, having come back from a war where every New Zealand was equal in putting their lives at risk for their country, they were determined that the benefits of peace be shared among all New Zealanders.
I grew up in a country where opportunity was given to all and we were one community, one nation.
Today the gap between rich and poor is much wider and our sense of being one community has diminished. We must as a nation address that.
They also came back from the war to build a stronger New Zealand. My father-in-law was an army truck driver in North Africa and Greece. He was captured in Crete.
But he came back to drive trucks and help build the hydro dams on the Waikato. My wife was born in Mangakino.
Today Pat would turn in his grave if he knew the dams he helped construct were being sold off and could end up foreign owned.
We should keep our assets and own our own future.
Thank you for your contribution, a big thanks to the RNZRSA for the work you do, and my best wishes for a successful conclusion to your Council and a safe return home.